Prior to the pandemic, balance transfer credit card offers were plentiful. But all of that had changed by early summer of this year as major issuers rolled back their offers. Here’s how you can still find a balance transfer offer, as well as a few alternatives.
Most major issuers offered at least one balance transfer credit card, including major players like Chase, American Express and Discover. Even many of the best rewards credit cards offered a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months or more, which made it easy to pay down a big purchase without interest, or to consolidate debt and pay it off on a much faster timeline.
But all of that had changed by early summer of this year as major issuers rolled back their offers or changed them to 0% intro APR offers on purchases only.
For example, the always-popular Chase Slate* card, which once let you transfer balances without any balance transfer fees for a limited time, stopped taking new applicants. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express* once let consumers transfer balances with no fees within 60 days and then save money with a 0% intro APR for 15 months. But this card only extends that offer to purchases for now (regular variable APR of 12.99% to 23.99% thereafter).
See related: What happens when your 0% introductory period ends?
What happened to all the balance transfer offers?
It seems obvious, but financial attorney Leslie Tayne of Tayne Law Group says creditors are being more conservative in order to protect themselves from economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
“High rates of default on balance transfers can cost banks and creditors a massive amount of money, a fate they’re looking to avoid,” she said.
Tayne also notes that some credit card issuers, including American Express, have gotten rid of balance transfer options altogether.
Other card issuers who have kept their balance transfer credit cards on the rolls have simply made them more difficult to qualify for. Accredited financial counselor Lauren Bringle of fintech Self Financial says many lenders have raised minimum credit score requirements, stopped credit limit increases or even reduced credit limits, which makes it harder for those with bad credit or high debt levels to gain access to these types of offers.
Balance transfers still exist, but where?
According to Jim Pendergast, senior vice president of a small bank division called altLINE, you can still find plenty of balance transfer credit cards worth considering if you dig a little deeper than normal.
“You’ll have to have pretty great credit to qualify, though,” he says.
Once you start comparing balance transfer credit cards, you’ll also find cards that waive balance transfer fees are nonexistent right now. This doesn’t mean they’re not a good deal or that you won’t save any money if you use one to consolidate debt. It just means you’ll have to pay a fee to initiate the balance transfer, which was common before the pandemic hit anyway.
Most balance transfer credit cards charge a balance transfer fee of 3% or 5% of your balance, which is included as part of the amount you’re left to repay once your balance transfer has taken place.
See related: How to do a balance transfer
Which balance transfer credit cards are the best right now?
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
Tayne points out that Citi is still offering several balance transfer options right now, with 0% introductory rates lasting for up to 18 months. With the Citi Diamond Preferred Card, for example, you’ll qualify for a 0% intro APR for 18 months on purchases and balance transfers completed within the first four months, followed by a variable APR of 13.74% to 23.74%. There’s no annual fee, but a 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5) applies.
Citi® Double Cash Card
This card doesn’t charge an annual fee, yet you’ll earn up to 2% in cash back on every purchase you make – 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off.
The Citi Double Cash also lets you secure a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months, followed by a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%. The same 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5) applies.
Wells Fargo Platinum card and Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa card
Wells Fargo also offers several cards that allow balance transfers, including the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card* and Wells Fargo Platinum card. These two balance transfer credit cards from Wells Fargo offer a 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 15 to 18 months from account opening, respectively, with no annual fee, and the standard 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5) applies on balance transfers completed within the first 120 days (then up to 5% or $5 minimum thereafter). The Cash Wise Visa charges a regular variable APR of 14.49% to 24.99%, while the Platinum offers a range of 16.49% to 24.49% variable.
Balance transfer alternatives to consider
If you don’t like the lack of options among balance transfer credit cards right now, there are several alternatives to consider.
Pay it Plan it®
For example, some American Express credit cards come with a Pay it Plan it feature that lets you split up qualifying purchases over time while paying a fixed monthly fee. You won’t get a 0% APR with this feature by any means, but you may be able to plan the repayment of your balance better and pay less in charges overall.
You can also consider taking out a personal loan to consolidate debt, though Tayne says personal loans are generally reserved for larger amounts of debt than a balance transfer.
Personal loans have several benefits that can make them worth considering. You’ll have a set monthly payment and a fixed loan term with a personal loan, meaning you’ll know exactly how much you’re paying and for how long. Meanwhile, a personal loan may make it easier to stay on track with a true debt repayment plan.
“A personal loan can be a better option if you’re worried about continuing to charge more on your balance transfer card,” says Tayne.
Pendergast also notes that personal loans can be flexible when it comes to repayment terms. For example, you may be able to pay off a personal loan from LightStream for up to 144 months depending on the loan amount, and many personal loan companies offer similar terms with no origination fees or prepayment fees.
Ask for a lower APR
Finally, Pendergast suggests negotiating with your current credit card company to lower your interest rate if you need to pay down debt and you’re struggling to make payments. Many credit card issuers are still offering COVID-19 assistance as well, which could help you skip credit card payments for a few months while you get back on your feet.
See related: Credit card debt negotiation in three steps
If you desperately need to consolidate debt, you should keep your mind open and be willing to consider credit cards you have never heard of. Also, consider the prospect of alternatives like personal loans, or even using your home equity as collateral to consolidate debt.
Hopefully, the best balance transfer offers will come back around once the economy gets back on track and unemployment numbers get back to where they were in February of this year. Until then, paying off debt may be a little harder, but definitely not impossible.
*Information about Chase Slate, the Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express and the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.